GABRIELI: Sacred Symphonies = Vox Domini super aquas Jordanis a 10 C64; In ecclesiis a 14 C78; Canzon primi toni a 10 C176; O Jesu mi dulcissime a 8 C24; Omnes gentes plaudite manibus a 16 C52; O Jesu mi dulcissime a 8 C56; Kyrie a 5/8/12 C71-73; Maria virgo a 10 C35; Magnificat a 12 C75; Litaniae Beatae Mariae Virginis a 8 C63; Exultet iam angelica turba a 17 C131 – Ex Cathedra/ His Majesties Sagbutts and Cornetts/ Concerto Palatino/ Jeffrey Skidmore – Hyperion CDA67957, 66:16 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
This is a collection of some of the standard Gabrieli fare performed and recorded to perfection by the aggregation of three of the best period ensembles playing today. Though the ten singers of Ex Cathedra may seem small by some standards, the venue chosen (All ‘Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London) and the tight ensemble combine to make a forceful presentation of Gabrieli’s music with no lack of heft. The four cornetts and six sagbutts from the combined forces of the other two ensembles, plus the organ and theorbo make for a joyous noise indeed, and it is rare such a finely balanced performance comes out so cleanly on record as Gabrieli can be notoriously difficult to record, going way back to the 1950s.
The music as mentioned contains a lot of standards, like the opening Vox Domini super aquas Jordanis or the delicious Magnificat a 12. The composer’s use of cori spezzati, or “fragmented choirs” is oft commented on with good reason as he was the first to take the concept to such physical extremes, the instrumentalists sitting in the front of the church with the choirs usually located near the organ lofts. This effect added a whole new dimension to church singing—and dare I say church going as well!—that impressed the multitude of visitors strutting through this important city—Venice—and influencing a hoard of composer for years to come.
One unusual piece here does command an extra bit of attention. The Litaniae Beatae Mariae Virginis a 8 is representative of the standard “litany” so popular during the age that reflected a devotion of liturgical prayer to the Virgin Mother or to a specific saint, often one with particular local significance. These litanies were often used in processions on special days, either around St. Mark’s itself, or from church to church, starting with a smaller one and ending up at the great cathedral.
Most of the music on this disc comes from one of two collections Gabrieli made called Sacred Symphonies, an interesting use of the word but still miles away from what we know of the form today. But the culmination of this disc is a wonderful 17-part motet for four separate choirs, Exultet iam angelica turba, a piece created to accompany the lighting of the Paschal candle in the early hours of Easter morning. A more fitting conclusion to a fine disc like this one would be hard to think of.